10 Novelists Who Became Screenwriters

by ScreenCraft on January 29, 2015

When novelists make the jump to Hollywood, they give up some of the autonomy of writing a book. It's no easy transition to deal with notes from directors, producers, and studio executives. Some novelists make it out of the system unscathed, but others end up frustrated.

How did these ten novelists fare?

Gillian Flynn:  Gone Girl

The novelist-turned-screenwriter of the moment is Gillian Flynn. After her book Gone Girl became a hit, she was given the opportunity to write her own screenplay for David Fincher’s adaptation. The film went on to widespread critical acclaim and a gross of $366.9 million in global box office. Flynn was nominated for numerous awards, including a Golden Globe.


Flynn will again be working with Fincher on HBO’s Utopia.


William Faulkner:  The Big Sleep

William Faulkner’s novels have always been critically acclaimed, but they originally had problems making money. To achieve some financial stability, he signed a contract with MGM. He worked on over 50 films, but perhaps the most notable is his adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, co-written with Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. The film was extremely influential in the noir genre and further cemented Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall as huge stars.


Faulkner also adapted Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, which is the first time Bacall and Bogart were on screen together.


Ernest Hemingway:  The Spanish Earth

Speaking of Hemingway, you’d think his short, choppy style would be perfect for screenwriting, but his reported contempt for Hollywood led him to write a documentary/propaganda film. The Spanish Earth is about the Spanish Civil War from the Republican point of view. It was written by Ernest Hemingway and fellow novelist John Dos Passos, and narrated by Orson Welles.


John Steinbeck:  Lifeboat

John Steinbeck’s main foray into Hollywood was Lifeboat, which he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock. Steinbeck was so unhappy with the film that he asked his name be removed from it. He stated that the film contains a “stock comedy Negro,” while his story had a “Negro of dignity, purpose and personality.” The studio ignored him, keeping his name on the project with a “story by” credit.



Cormac McCarthy:  The Counselor

Though his books have been adapted many times, Cormac McCarthy had never written an original screenplay until The Counselor. Not used to the usual look of screenplays, he wrote it in an odd format that is closer to a play, with character names on one side of the page and dialogue on the other. As one of the greatest novelists alive, he can get away with that, but the movie itself opened to disappointing reviews and mediocre business.


Ray Bradbury:  Moby Dick

Though he was most famous for his science fiction, Ray Bradbury was hired to adapt Moby Dick for director John Huston. Supposedly, the director did not care for Bradbury’s work, creating a lot of friction in the relationship. Bradbury was so traumatized by his Hollywood experience that he wrote two fictionalized accounts of it:  the novel Green Shadows, White Whale and the short story “Banshee”.


Raymond Chandler:  Double Indemnity

Upon first meeting Chandler, director Billy Wilder was disappointed. He expected to meet a hard-boiled detective, but instead described the novelist as being like an accountant. Chandler wrote the first 80 pages in a week. Wilder threw out those pages because they were all “useless camera instruction.” Wilder then made it clear that they would be writing together. The relationship was supposedly contentious, but it produced one of the great film noirs.


F. Scott Fitzgerald:  Three Comrades

The Great Gatsby writer moved to Hollywood in 1937, but is only credited on one screenplay. Three Comrades is about three German soldiers adjusting to life after World War I and the beginnings of Naziism.

Fitzgerald wrote a large number of treatments and script polishes, including work on Gone with the Wind. His pages for that film were not used, though.


David Eggers:  Away We Go and Where the Wild Things Are

David Eggers had a big year in 2009. He wrote the screenplay for Away We Go with his wife Vendela Vida, then wrote the Maurice Sendak adaptation Where the Wild Things Are with Spike Jonze. The latter film received mostly positive reviews, and just about broke even on its $100 million budget.


Eggers has continued his Hollywood career, writing such films as Promised Land for Gus Van Sant.


Truman Capote:  Beat the Devil

Truman Capote’s books, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, have always made for great film adaptations, but the novelist tried his hand at screenwriting only once. John Huston hired Capote to adapt Claud Cockburn’s novel Beat the Devil in 1953. It was designed to be a parody of The Maltese Falcon, which John Huston directed in 1941. Beat the Devil was poorly received during its release, but Roger Ebert added it to his Great Movies list, saying that it was the first “camp” film.



What other novelists have become screenwriters? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

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